Department of Economics and Business Economics

Simon Emde

Loading tow trains ergonomically for just-in-time part supply

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Heiko Diefenbach, Technische Universität Darmstadt
  • ,
  • Simon Emde
  • Christoph H. Glock, Technische Universität Darmstadt

Faced with an aging workforce, many manufacturing companies consider alleviating the ergonomic strain of material handling on their workers increasingly important. This is one of the reasons why frequent small-lot deliveries of parts to the assembly stations on the shop floor via small electric delivery vehicles – so-called tow trains – have become widespread in many industries. Deploying tow trains, however, does not automatically ease the ergonomic burden on logistics workers, but requires careful stowage planning in addition. In this paper, we consider the following problem. Given a set of bins of differing weight to be carried by tow train to a given set of stations on the shop floor, where should each bin be stowed on the tow train such that it can be unloaded efficiently from an economic perspective while also minimizing the ergonomic strain during loading and unloading? We investigate the physiological stress of handling bins on different levels of a tow train wagon by applying an established ergonomic evaluation method from the human factors engineering literature. We model the ensuing optimization problem as a special type of assignment problem and propose suitable exact and heuristic solution methods. In a computational study, our approaches are shown to perform well, delivering optimal solutions for instances of realistic size within fractions of a second in many cases. We show that optimal stowage plans can significantly ease the physiological burden on the workforce without compromising economic efficiency. We also derive some insights into the ideal layout of the tow train from an ergonomics perspective.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Operational Research
Pages (from-to)325-344
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

    Research areas

  • Assignment, Ergonomics, Generalized assignment problem, Part feeding, Tow trains

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